English: My Dream Lesson - Santa's wish-list wobble

All he wants is writing he can read - is that too much to ask?

'Twas the night before Christmas and from somewhere in the house came the sort of frustrated scream you might hear from a teacher sitting at his dining table, at some God-forsaken hour, trying to decipher three pages of narrative. Except it isn't a teacher ... although quite what Santa is doing in my living room is something of a mystery.

"It's this Christmas list," he explains, holding it at arm's length as though it might carry a deadly disease. "I can't read it."

"Ah, that's James's handwriting," I tell him. "His 'J' and his 'S' are always reversed and his 'M' always resembles a short but erect penis. He tends not to bother with vowels."

"And this one?" asks Santa.

"Ah ... that would be Charlene's. She's left-handed."

"And this?"

"Conan's, by the look of those deep gouges. He has emotional needs."

"Ho ho ho, does he now?" the man in red retorts. "Well, I have a few emotional needs myself. I also have 321.3 million gifts to deliver and I can't afford to waste time on illegible handwriting," he snaps. "Why can't you teach children to write properly? Like they did in Victorian times ... In Victorian times ..."

His voice and his image fade. A mist descends. A moment later I am in a different place altogether. In this bleak school room the walls are bare and the window panes patterned with frost. But there is one familiar thing: it seems I am about to give a lesson.

"It's Christmas Eve! You can't make us come to school on Christmas Eve!" whines James.

I twirl my moustache, smile malevolently, and slam my cane on the table. "Now, children, let us commence our Victorian handwriting lesson. On command one you will pick up your pen. On two you will dip it into your inkwell. On three you will copy out the alphabet. You will do this not once, but again and again until every letter is perfect."

An hour later, several shivering children write "What I'd like for Christmas ..." in perfect handwriting. And the only sounds, aside from scratching pens and consumptive coughs, are a faint tinkling of bells and the distant voice of Santa crying: "A happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"

Steve Eddison is a key stage 2 teacher at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield

What else?

Make sure those letters to Santa are clear. Try trogfoot's activities for developing handwriting and motor skills.

Look back at festive Victorian England while developing students' writing with TES English's A Christmas Carol booklet or Martin Rosen's lively Teachers TV introduction to Dickens.

For a range of nativity focused activities covering literacy, numeracy and ICT try the TESiboard Christmas collection.

Alternatively, the Charles Dickens museum, London offers a range of free resources.

Find all links and resources at www.tes.co.ukresources014.

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